New website launched Our new website is here. Find out more

Alumni News

Gift expands options for southern students

A generous gift of $3 million from distinguished neurologist, philanthropist and Otago alumnus Dr Elman Poole will support southern students to pursue their studies in science, music, health sciences and engineering at the University of Otago and University of Canterbury. It will also allow more postgraduate students from both universities to undertake overseas fieldwork.

Dr Poole has bequeathed £750,000 to each of the two universities (about NZ$3 million in total) via their respective charitable trusts, to support undergraduate scholarships for students from Southland Boys' and Southland Girls' High Schools, as well as an increased number of postgraduate travelling scholarships.

Dr Poole, who grew up in Invercargill and graduated with a degree in medicine from Otago in 1950, passed away in June 2019 in the United Kingdom, aged 93. The scholarships reflect his passion for science and music, his commitment to enabling southern talent to shine, and his desire to give others the experience of overseas fellowships that he had enjoyed.

In an interview in 2016, he said the scholarships were targeted and carefully planned initiatives that provided opportunities for young people to go to university and study abroad. “They are life-changing opportunities for those who are prepared to step up and make a success of it,” he said.

Commenting on Dr Poole's wishes for his bequests, executor of his estate in the UK, Emerita Pilgrim, says: “Elman had always told me of his desire to enable young, talented New Zealand scholars to fulfil their academic abilities, to achieve the highest possible professional leadership goals with a commitment to serve their community.

“He himself received scholarships to the UK and USA which launched him onto his talented medical career path. His bequests now reflect his desire to launch New Zealand's talented scholars onto the same path."

Otago's Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Shelagh Murray, says the University is incredibly grateful for the wonderful gift from Dr Poole.

“His generosity has already supported many students from southern New Zealand on their journey to achieve their dreams and to further their education and their interests. His bequest will add to that legacy by providing even more young people with support, helping them to reach their potential and opening new doors for our postgraduates,” she says.

“We kept close contact with Dr Poole and enjoyed visiting him in Oxford in recent years with our University Chancellor, Dr Royden Somerville.”

In the last decade, Dr Poole established three undergraduate scholarships at Otago for students of Southland Boys' and Southland Girls' High Schools.

Two Elman Poole Science and Music Scholarships are awarded to a student from each school who is an all-round achiever with a strong interest and aptitude for music performance and science. The Elman and Alfred Poole Science Scholarships are for students who intend to pursue a degree and career in science, and two Elman and Alfred Poole Health Sciences scholarships are awarded to students who excel in science and intend to enrol in the Health Sciences First Year course at Otago. For each of these scholarships, the students receive $5,000 annually for three years.

In addition, Dr Poole and the University of Otago co-founded a postgraduate Elman Poole Travelling Scholarship in 2006, which supports PhD students in their second- or third-year of study, majoring in physical or biological sciences, health sciences or music, who wish to do fieldwork outside New Zealand. Preference is given to candidates born in Otago or Southland.

In 2016, Dr Poole also donated $500,000 to the University of Canterbury to support undergraduate study in engineering for students from the two Southland high schools, providing scholarships of $5,000 a year for three years for up to four students a year, as well as postgraduate travel scholarships. His legacy will allow those awards to be offered in perpetuity and expand the subjects that Southland High School scholars study at Canterbury.

“With his generous legacy, Elman has helped to shape, change and influence the lives of many young Kiwis and students of this university,” Director of the University of Canterbury Foundation Jo Dowling says.

About Dr Elman Poole

Elman Poole

Dr Elman Poole was a son of the late Philip Poole, a well-known cabinetmaker and musician in Invercargill in the 1920s. He studied at Southland Boys' High School and the University of Otago, graduating MB ChB in 1950. Awarded a Nuffield Dominion Scholarship, he travelled to the UK and studied at Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1953.

He specialised in neurology and held posts in London at the Institute of Psychiatry and the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases. After a Rockefeller Fellowship to the Mayo Clinic, he returned to the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford in 1962 and set up the clinical neurophysiology department. He was also clinical lecturer in neurology at Oxford from 1979 until his retirement in 1990.

His brother, Alfred, qualified in medicine from Otago in 1946 and played an important part in health care in Invercargill. His sister, Ivy, attended Southland Girls' High School and graduated with a BA from Otago in 1948.

His niece, Dr Elizabeth Poole, says Dr Poole maintained strong links with the extended family throughout Southland and Otago and always regarded southern New Zealand as his home.

“He wanted to provide the means to help young talented local students achieve their career goals and be successful leaders in their fields, just as he has,” she says.

Auckland Dental Facility provides education, opportunity and access

Dental school opening3

The University's new Auckland Dental Facility was officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne on 4 February.

The state-of-the-art facility, which provides treatment by appointment only, follows the model operated successfully by the Faculty of Dentistry in Dunedin where the University provides patients with quality treatment at an attractive cost, recognising that patients play a role in helping to educate students.

The new initiative was made possible by a $10 million donation from Dr Graeme Hart and his wife Robyn.

The facility began operation in 2020 with 11 final-year students, around half of whom are now working in high-needs communities as dentists. This year, the facility has 29 students and in 2022 it will be at full capacity with almost 50 students, which will be half the Faculty of Dentistry's final-year students and the facility's limit.

Facility Clinical Director Dr David Roessler says the Auckland students “are in a world-class facility situated in a highly multicultural area with an extremely diverse range of oral health needs.

“This provides them with an amazing opportunity, not just to learn, but to make a real contribution and become part of the community. We have already seen this happening in the time we have been open. Similarly, we offer oral health practitioners opportunities to continue their dental education.”

Roessler says the facility staff and students have been “like a big family, which is really, really nice”.

He believes one of the facility's most lasting impacts could be the numbers of graduates who decide to work in high-needs areas. Another lasting impact will be the students promoting oral health awareness and educating people about oral health.

The facility has a broad range of patients, most of whom have conditions that have gone untreated for years. “We've had a lot more impact than we expected, we haven't even had to advertise for patients. This is a big deal in Auckland,” Roessler says.

Faculty of Dentistry Dean Professor Mike Morgan says the $28.2 million, two-storey, 32-chair building was built on Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) land neighbouring the Manukau Super Clinic on Great South Road.

The University partnered with the DHB on the project which increases access to subsidised oral health care in South Auckland and fulfils the University's three objectives of education, research and serving the community.

Morgan says the broad range of learning opportunities will support the education of first-class dental graduates. “They will leave their education and training experiences with a greater appreciation of the complex needs of our increasingly diverse population.”

Division of Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton says the facility provides an additional educational opportunity for students across all dental programmes. “This is particularly the case with respect to developing cultural competencies while providing dental care to a high- needs population in South Auckland.

“The facility's continuing education and training post-graduation also helps dental teams across New Zealand maintain their skills to the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

The facility will strengthen relationships and partnerships with Māori and Pacific communities, based on mutually beneficial goals incorporating patient care, research and education.

The Faculty of Dentistry will regularly consult the community to find out what it needs from the clinics and will also provide outreach activities.

Construction of the facility – which incorporates state-of-the-art dental and audio-visual equipment – was completed ahead of time and under budget. The design accommodates the requirements of clinical services, education and community accessibility.

Based on current world best-practice, the dental chairs have more space around them for family. While most chairs are in bays, some are in rooms for extra privacy.

Through a partnership with the Te Ākitai iwi, a cultural narrative has been woven into the facility under the guidance of notable artist Johnson Witehira.

Dental facility
The University's new Auckland Dental Facility.
Photo: Sharlene Ferguson, Focal Point Photos

Dental school opening2
University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne and Chancellor Dr Royden Somerville QC at the facility's official opening in February.

Dental school opening1
The new facility will build and strengthen relationships with the local community
Photos: Counties Manukau District Health Board

Facility facts

  • The facility is designated as a general dental practice. It has 32 treatment chairs and another chair dedicated to teledentistry.
  • The facility's Simulation Clinic – with artificial heads for practising dentistry – has 16 fully- equipped stations which also include screens for students and dentists to watch others work, lectures, or patients being treated (teledentistry).
  • The facility's seminar room's capacity is up to 50 people.
  • The University of Otago has been New Zealand's national centre of dentistry since 1907.
  • The Faculty of Dentistry in Dunedin undertakes about 76,000 treatments annually for the public from around the lower South Island. This service has now been extended to South Auckland.

20Twenties 2021

We are pleased to announce the return of the 20Twenties Young Alumni Awards to the 2021 alumni calendar.

Our 2020 recipients demonstrated significant contributions in a wide array of areas including leadership, ethical game development, COVID-19 research, and improvement of the health of their community. We invite you to read the profiles of some of our 2020 recipients to inspire you to nominate the next generation of outstanding young alumni. Their profiles can be read at

We encourage you to consider nominating a young (under 30) Otago graduate who has made an impact in his or her community or wider and whose contribution has challenged the status quo or has made significant difference in some way.

Nominations for the 2021 awards will open in May and close at the end of July and nomination forms will be available from our website

Events and reunions

Alumni events in 2021 commenced with a webinar organised and hosted by Alumni of the University of Otago in America (AUOA) which gave our alumni in the United States the opportunity to connect with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Harlene Hayne, before she leaves for her new role at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

This was followed by events in Dunedin and Auckland. Unfortunately, planned events in Queenstown, Christchurch and Wellington had to be cancelled.

We hope to being able to meet with alumni in person in 2021 and look forward to hosting a number of events and activities digitally. Please keep a look out for your invitation to join our online book club in 2021.

BDS reunion
1970 MB ChB reunion, November 2020, Barnett Lecture Theatre, Dunedin

1970 MBCHB in Barnett Theatre
1980 BDS reunion, February 2021.

Upcoming reunions

If you would like to organise a reunion please contact us for more information:

Toroa College July, Dunedin
Medical class of 1971 reunion 12–14 October, Bay of islands
Medical class of 1976 reunion 28–30 October, Christchurch
Home Science first-year class of 1971 5–6 November, Christchurch
Salmond College 509th anniversary reunion 26–28 November, Dunedin
Oral Science class of 2012 2022, Dunedin
Phys-Ed first-year class of 1972 Easter 2022, Dunedin
Medical class of 1962 reunion Dates tbc, Sydney
Medical class of 2002 2022, Dunedin

Upcoming events

Breakfast with Highlanders' coaches 16 April, Dunedin
Breakfast with Highlanders' coaches 30 April, Wellington
Wanaka and Queenstown alumni events 19 and 20 May
Invercargill alumni event 3 June
Napier alumni event 8 September
Tauranga alumni event 9 September

Final dates are subject to change.
Please contact us for confirmation:

Remembering Sophia

Sophia Crestani
Sophia Crestani: In her memory a scholarship has been established by her family for second-year community-minded females in financial need.

The generous response to the Sophia Michelle McMillan Crestani Scholarship fund has meant that the first scholarship in Sophia's name was awarded in March this year and fundraising for a second scholarship is well advanced.

Sophia passed away in tragic circumstances at a student party in North Dunedin on 6 October 2019 and the scholarship has been established by her family in her memory. The scholarship fund has touched the hearts of many and at the beginning of this year $106,638 had been raised. The more funds that are raised, the greater the value of each scholarship.

“The support that we have received from Sophia's family and friends, Otago students, staff and current parents has been amazing,” says Director of Development and Alumni Relations Shelagh Murray. “We are continuing to fundraise for the second scholarship, to be established as an endowment similar to the first. We're heartened by the donations we continue to receive.”

The first scholarship, worth $4,500, is for a female second-year student studying mathematics and/or statistics. Sophia demonstrated her innate ability in mathematics at an early age, winning the St Benedict's School Mathematics Cup and an academic scholarship to Queen Margaret College.
Sophia was also a sporty and creative young woman, a people person who gave back to her community as a gymnastics coach and recreation co-ordinator.

The second scholarship will be awarded to a female second-year student studying any subject.

Both scholarships are for second-year community-minded females in financial need. Sophia's parents, Elspeth McMillan and Bede Crestani, say “some students are looking after family members with no income, and others do not have any family support and would not be able to attend university without this financial help. We hope and intend that they make a real difference over a long time, and allow students to gain an education when they may otherwise have had to withdraw.”

In addition to the scholarships, last July Sophia's parents and her twin sister, Frances, along with the University, the Police and other Dunedin stakeholders, launched The Sophia Charter for Community Responsibility and Well-being to enhance safety and well-being of the student community in North Dunedin.

The charter's ultimate goal is to provide a “circle of support” to ensure North Dunedin becomes a stronger student neighbourhood where residents take responsibility for themselves, each other and the wider community.

In October, a memorial bench was installed in front of the University's Clocktower building to honour and celebrate Sophia. The funds for the seat were raised by Sophia's friends, with the surplus going towards the scholarship fund.

For further information about the scholarship and to donate:

Back to top